Thursday 17 January 2013

Quebec’s Caisse invests $500-million in wind power
8 Jan 2013

Quebec's big pension fund manager, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, has beefed up its investments in renewable energy by taking a stake in 13 wind farms in the United States and Canada.

The $500 million investment will give the fund a share of 11 U.S, and two Canadian wind farms currently owned and operated by Invenergy Wind LLC, a company based in Chicago that owns renewable energy projects across North America and Europe.

Up to now, the Caisse's direct renewable energy investment has been limited to a $25 million financing of the Seigneurie de Beaupre Wind Farm developed by Montreal-based Boralex Inc. The pension fund also owns equity in Enbridge Inc, and Gaz Metro L.P., utilities that operate some renewable energy projects among their broader portfolios.

The Invenergy Wind investment "is our most important to date" in the renewable sector, Caisse spokeswoman Sarah-Emilie Bouchard said. One of the projects in the group of assets is located in Quebec-the Plateau wind farm, a 139 MW development in the Gaspe region that has been producing power since early last year.

Caisse senior vice-president of infrastructure Macky Tall said the wind projects will broaden the pension fund's presence in a "forward-looking sector" and generate stable and predictable returns over the long term. The companies would not reveal what proportion of the wind projects the Caisse will own, but Invenergy Wind will remain the controlling shareholder of the developments. Over all, the portfolio generates about 1,500 MWs of electricity.

Invenergy Wind is one of the largest independent power companies in North America, with more than 55 facilities that generate power from wind, solar power and natural gas.

Wind energy tax credit
8 Jan 2013

CONTRARY to Graham Lloyds article, the US production tax credit for wind power was extended as part of the fiscal cliff deal passed on January 1 ("Blow to big wind in the power-market stakes", 5 6/1).

Given that most major fossil fuel power plants in Australia were built and funded by governments-and many are still owned by governments-it is not unreasonable that renewable energy is provided with a modest level of support until it becomes more established. The cost of wind power, for example, makes up less than 2% of power bills.

While world markets have proven volatile over the last 12 months due to the stop-start nature of government support in some countries, Australia's 20% Renewable Energy Target has been a consistent and relatively low-cost policy that has provided enough stability to attract financiers and investors.

Australia is well-positioned to substantially increase the share of renewable energy in our generation mix between here and the end of the decade, creating tens of thousands of jobs and unlocking billions of dollars of investment in the process.

Russell Marsh, Clean Energy Council, Southbank, Vic

Graham Lloyd is a recidivist when it comes to misrepresenting the facts, exaggerating or misleading by omission.

New path to more efficient organic solar cells uncovered
7 Jan 2013

Why are efficient and affordable solar cells so highly coveted? Volume. The amount of solar power lighting up Earth's land mass every year is nearly 3,000 times the total amount of annual human energy use. But to compete with energy from fossil fuels, photovoltaic devices must convert sunlight to electricity with a certain measure of efficiency. For polymer-based organic photovoltaic cells, which are far less expensive to manufacture than silicon-based solar cells, scientists have long believed that the key to high efficiencies rests in the purity of the polymer/organic cell's two domains -- acceptor and donor. Now, however, an alternate and possibly easier route forward has been shown.

Working at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source (ALS), a premier source of X-ray and ultraviolet light beams for research, an international team of scientists found that for highly efficient polymer/organic photovoltaic cells, size matters.

"We've shown that impure domains if made sufficiently small can also lead to improved performances in polymer-based organic photovoltaic cells," says Harald Ade, a physicist at North Carolina State University, who led this research. "There seems to be a happy medium, a sweet-spot of sorts, between purity and domain size that should be much easier to achieve than ultra-high purity."

Ade, a longtime user of the ALS, is the corresponding author of a paper describing this work in Advanced Energy Materials titled "Absolute Measurement of Domain Composition and Nanoscale Size Distribution Explains Performance in PTB7:PC71 BM Solar Cells." Co-authors are Brian Collins, Zhe Li, John Tumbleston, Eliot Gann and Christopher McNeill.

Read More…

Superconductors for efficient wind power plants: Researchers develop cooling system for novel generator

January 4, 2013

Wind power will make a major contribution to the energy turnaround. Efficient power generation by means of offshore power plants requires powerful, reliable generators that do not cause disproportionately high logistic efforts and do not require complex foundations. Using generators with superconductors, performance can be increased to 10 MW while at the same time reducing the units' weights and sizes. Besides, superconducting generators can be built with less than one hundredth of the quantity of rare earths required for manufacturing the currently most frequently used permanent magnet generator. Superconduction, hence, allows setting up of efficient, robust, and compact wind power plants at reduced building, operating, and maintenance costs.

It is the objective of the EU-supported project SUPRAPOWER (SUPerconducting, Reliable, lightweight, And more POWERful offshore wind turbine) to use the high potential of supraconduction for expansion of wind power. In the four-year project that has started now nine partners from industry and science cooperate under the coordination of Fundacion Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Spain. Together, the partners develop a wind power plant with direct-drive superconducting generator. The innovative direct drive, in addition, reduces transport and maintenance costs and extends the service life of the turbine.

The Cryogenic Engineering Division at KIT's Institute for Technical Physics (ITEP) contributes the cooling system: Below a certain temperature, superconductors have no electrical resistance and conduct electricity without loss. To ensure proper operation of the superconducting generator, the coils must be cooled below this so-called transition temperature. The researchers at ITEP are developing a rotating low-loss cryostat that cools down the superconducting coils to 20 Kelvin (minus 253.15 °C) through pure heat conduction by means of small Gifford-McMahon coolers provided by the project partner Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum.

"Since the cooling performance of such coolers is limited, we must ensure that heat between them and the superconducting coils is conducted well. Besides, we must consider the influence of rotation on the heat pipes we may use. On the other hand, the cryostat needs a highly effective thermal insulation", explains Head of the Cryogenic Engineering Division Dr. Holger Neumann. Work on the cooling system translates the findings from fundamental research to practice and, hence, is most attractive to young scientists.

Jordan to receive Gulf aid for renewable energy
1 Jan 2013

Jordan is set to receive $300 million from the Gulf states to boost investment in renewable energy, officials say, as Amman looks to solar and wind power as potential solutions to the country's chronic energy woes.

According to Minister of Energy and Transportation Alaa Batayneh, some $300 million of a $5 billion grant from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been earmarked for a series of solar and wind power projects in southern Jordan expected to produce over 125 MWs (MW) of electricity.

In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, Batayneh said the money, set to be secured by the ministry next year, would fund some 50 75MW of solar power and 75-100MW of wind power projects in Maan and Aqaba governorates. The GCC aid, decided at a meeting of the Gulf states last December, includes $1.25 billion each from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, and will support development projects in the Kingdom over a period of five years.

The $300 million is the latest in a string of international assistance agreements for clean energy in Jordan, including a $112 million loan Jordan secured from the World Bank in July to support the establishment of a 100MW concentrated solar power plant. "These funds will help Jordan develop its one true energy solution: solar and wind", Batayneh told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

Read More…

Sempra Energy completes a wind farm in Maui
31 Dec 2012

San Diego-based Sempra Energy has announced the completion of a wind farm in southeast Maui capable of powering 10,000 island homes.

Perched on a ridge of the Haleakala volcano, the Auwahi Wind power plant consists of eight new turbines and a battery designed to sustain power during light wind conditions. The plant was built by Sempra US Gas & Power and BP Wind Energy under a 20-year contract with Maui Electric, a subsidiary of Hawaii's dominant regulated utility.

The state is requiring utilities to increase the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to 40% by 2030. California's renewable portfolio standard requires 33% renewable generation by 2020. In a written announcement Wednesday, Sempra recognized the support of neighbors to the project including the Ulupalakua cattle ranch.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Solar energy on the rise in Germany
1 Jan 2013

Solar energy is on the rise in Germany, with a record 1.3 million photovoltaic systems in 2012. The increase comes as new consumer taxes on energy are to take effect in the country. The recent solar boom means the alternative form of energy now reaches 8 million homes in Germany, a 45% increase compared to 2011, the German Solar Industry Association (BSW) said on Tuesday.

"Germany is now reaping the fruits of its efforts in solar technology," said the BSW's chief executive, Carsten K├Ârnig. "Its share of the power supply has quadrupled in just three years. At the same time, the price of a new solar power system installation has halved."

The new numbers come as a consumer tax increase on energy takes effect. Starting this month, taxes will increase on consumer power bills from 3.6 € ¢ to 5.3 ¢ per kW hour in a bid to help finance the cost of the country's switch to renewable energy. For the average three-person household in Germany, that 47% increase will cost an extra 185 euros annually.

Solar energy currently accounts for about 5% of the country's total electricity usage, the BSW said. The association aims to increase that number to 10% by 2020 and at least 20% by 2030.

Wind power deadline sees US firms rush to build turbines
29 Dec 2012

US energy companies are racing to install wind turbines before a federal tax credit expires at the end of this year. Experts say that wind power has exceeded the construction of natural gas plants in recent months. However the financial incentive for wind could be lost as congress struggles to avoid financial deadlock.

Even if the credit is extended it is expected that new installations will decline in 2013. According to industry analysts, the federal government's production tax credit has played an important role in the expansion of wind power across the US since it was first introduced in 1992.

Wind passes gas
At that point there was less than 1.5 GWs of power generating capacity provided by wind across the country. That figure has grown dramatically. This year has seen around 12 GWs of wind power capacity installed, outpacing even natural gas projects which have boomed on the back of cheap shale.

The government subsidy works out at 2.2 ¢ per kW hour of power produced over ten years. This amounts to around $1m (£620,000) for every large turbine. However the deadline is absolute-to get the money the blades on new installations must be turning and generating power before the 31st of December.

"There's a lot of rushing right now to get projects completed by the end of the year", says Rob Gramlich, senior vice president at the American Wind Energy Association. "It is not a great way to run a business with this policy-induced uncertainty". The tax credit has proved contentious with some lawmakers criticising it as too generous. It lapsed previously in 1999, 2001 and 2003. Each time it lead to a collapse in new construction.

The American Wind Energy Association are hoping the tax credit will be passed as part of a compromise package of legislation to help the US avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. The say the most likely outcome is a short term extension of the subsidy. "There's a good chance we could get this extension, it is very hard to predict, but the industry is not making bets on the Congress getting it done", says Mr Gramlich,

Even if there is an extension there is likely to be a significant curtailment of wind installations in 2013. Wind energy companies say they need longer time frames to negotiate deals to sell the power they generate. Iberdrola Renewables is the second largest developer of wind power projects in the United States. The company is racing to finalise new wind installations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. However the prospects for new turbines in 2013 are slim according to Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola.

"Even if the tax credit is extended, our new construction plans likely will be ramped back substantially in 2013 compared with the last few years. So much time has passed without certainty that a normal one-year extension would not be a game-changer for our 2013 build plans".

Some analysts argue that all subsidies to wind should end and the industry should stand on its own two feet. They say that the current arrangements mean that energy companies continue to make money even when there is a surplus of wind and the market price is negative.

Dan Kish is with the Institute for Energy Research, a body long critical of subsidies for renewables. He told BBC News the extension of the tax credit was expensive, unnecessary and destabilising to the electricity grid. "Wind produces power at a fraction of its stated capacity, and is increasingly adding unnecessary costs to consumers, just as it is in the UK", he said "They are creations of government and serve only to make their builders and owners wealthy at the expense of the public".

Apple exploring alternative wind power technology and motion-control Mac mice
27 Dec 2012

Apple's patent filings today reveal one concept outside their usual product-focused applications, detailing a method for harnessing wind power in a manner different from that employed in traditional turbines. Electricity gathered from a wind turbine would be converted to heat energy and stored in a "low-heat capacity fluid" in Apple's patent, allowing it to be tapped on an as-needed basis whenever the wind dies down.

It all gets pretty technical, but painted in broad strokes, the system would potentially use the motion of the rotor shaft moving against a "low-heat capacity fluid" (such as ethanol or mercury, for instance) to generate heat through friction between the two surfaces. This can then be transferred from the storage fluid to a working fluid which is then boiled off to release steam. The steam powers a turbine, converting the energy to usable form.

Apple's system differs from basic wind-power generators that are highly subject to variances in wind power, as well as systems that use batteries to store energy made through rotational energy for later use when wind isn't actively making that much power. Instead, it is designed to make wind power available on a more "on-demand" basis, which is of significant importance for facilities requiring a constant, uninterrupted power supply. That likely explains why Apple is pursuing this kind of tech: Its massive data centers have huge power requirements, and the company has stated its commitment to harnessing wind, solar and other alternative energy sources to help keep these facilities running smoothly.

So far, Apple has been working mostly on building solar farms and biogas generators to help fulfill its energy needs at data center locations like the one it has in Maiden, NC, and competitor Google recently revealed that it has powered a data center with wind power for the first time.

Read More…

EnergyAustralia puts gas-fired plant on hold
28 Dec 2012

Energyaustralia has shelved plans for a $1.3 billion Victorian power station that had been slated to replace some of the big Yallourn brown coal plants in the Latrobe Valley. The gas plant, which had originally been planned as a baseload power station, would potentially have replaced two of Yallourn's four brown coal power units, Yallourn's Hong Kong-owned operator TRUEnergy said in 2010.

EnergyAustralia, the rebranded TRUEnergy, has now told the Victorian government it has put the big project on hold because of a drop in wholesale energy demand and prices. The shelving also comes as a combination of higher east-coast gas prices beyond 2015 -driven by $70bn of coal seam gas export projects being built at Gladstone--and lower expected carbon prices make gas-fired power less economically viable than coal.

Yallourn is currently operating only three of its units after lower demand meant it did not restart a unit that was shut down this year because of flooding. EnergyAustralia's head of markets, Mark Collette, said a new power station may not be needed until much later this decade. "We are seeing further deterioration in the energy market and wholesale prices, and we don't expect conditions to improve in the foreseeable future", he said.

The federal government's abandoning of plans to pay for closure of brown coal power stations has also meant there is little chance EnergyAustralia will look at closing more units at Yallourn.

In documents submitted to the federal Environment Department in 2009, TRUEnergy said the 1000 MW combined-cycle gas turbine plant would "allow for a transition over time from existing coal-fired plant to flexible, economically viable, low-emissions technologies". "The introduction of the (gas) plant is largely dependent on the electricity market and impact of a scheme that places a value on carbon emissions", the submission said.

High gas prices and the linking of Australia's carbon tax with subdued European prices have greatly improved the relative economics of brown coal stations. Earlier this month, GDF Suez--which owns Hazelwood, the nation's dirtiest power station--said high gas prices and lower carbon had improved the outlook for its Australian business.

The date for first gas-fired power from Yallourn had slipped from 2013 to 2017 in documents submitted to the Victorian government in June. In those documents, CLP Group quietly downgraded its plans from a combined-cycle to an open-cycle plant. This meant it would supply just peaking power, rather than baseload, but could be upgraded at some later stage to replace the coal-fired units.